Cadence In Literature (Examples, Functions & Types)

Definition of Cadence

Cadence is the rhythmic and melodic way a musical phrase ends. All music has cadences that give it a feeling of being finished or resolved. When listening to a song, the cadence is how each section or idea concludes. The composers and writers use different cadences skillfully to express the feelings and guide the listener’s experience of the music.

Types of Cadences

Here are the main types of cadences written simply:

1- Perfect Cadence

Perfect cadence provides a very strong sense of finality and resolution, like a period at the end of a sentence. In prose, it is used sparingly at the ends of full paragraphs or chapters only to fully conclude an idea or section.

2- Imperfect Cadence

It gives some closure but still leaving a bit of openness, like a comma within a sentence. It is frequently placed at the end of sentences within paragraphs to allow the thought to continue flowing naturally into the next idea. Imperfect cadence leaves the reader expecting more information to come.

3- Plagal Cadence

This type of cadence is a gentler and more soothing resolution similar to its musical form. It is used to transition smoothly between different topics or scenes. It can bring calm closure to a minor passage before moving on.

4- Half Cadence

Half cadence creates suspense and anticipation, like a semicolon, by not fully resolving a phrase. It is often used strategically within the narrative, such as right before a plot twist or revelation. It arouses the reader’s curiosity for what will come next.

5- Internal Cadence

Resolution occurring within a sentence through punctuation or phrasing, giving the author flexibility in sentence structure and rhythm. For example, a comma-separated list of descriptive details.

Types of Cadence In Literature
Types of Cadence In Literature

Examples of Cadence in Literature

1- “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

“Mr. Darcy proposed his sister and her friend in visiting Mrs. Phillips. But his schemes were soon frustrated, for the ladies were really engaged to visit Jane.”

Jane Austen employs cadence purposefully to convey Mr. Darcy’s foiled plans in a subtle yet engaging way. The sentence structure and punctuation create an imperfect cadence that mirrors Darcy’s disrupted intentions. The first clause “Mr. Darcy proposed his sister and her friend in visiting Mrs. Phillips” establishes Darcy’s proposal in a simple subject-verb-object construction with strong grammatical closure at the period. This gives the proposal a sense of forward momentum and certainty. However, the next clause “But his schemes were soon frustrated” introduces an abrupt twist with the conjunction “But”. This breaks the rhythmic expectation set up by the prior closed clause and hints that Darcy’s plans may not come to fruition.

The imperfect cadence created by the comma after “frustrated” leaves the thought unfinished matching how Darcy’s intentions have been curtailed before being fully realized. The reader is drawn in, wanting to know how his schemes were thwarted. This is revealed in the final clause, which resumes the expected rhythmic closure with “for the ladies were really engaged to visit”. The information satisfyingly wraps up both the sentence and the subversion of Darcy’s proposal.

2- “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

This passage uses irregular rhythm and enjambment to recreate the unsettled, anxious state of the narrator as he stands “peering” into the darkness. The first line “Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering,” establishes a searching, uncertain tone through its staggered meter and placement of the preposition “into” at the beginning. This breaks expected rhythm to mirror the narrator’s disrupted thought process. The comma after “wondering” continues the thought into the next line, creating enjambment that builds suspense about what he was wondering. The repetition of “long I stood there” emphasizes his protracted and restless contemplation.

The final line completes the thought but introduces new uncertainties with “fearing, doubting and dreaming dreams.” The list of unsettling mental actions is separated by commas, which fragments the rhythm much like the narrator’s disturbed frame of mind. Additionally, the half-line “dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before” leaves the cadence imperfect. It fails to conclusively resolve, paralleling how the narrator’s thoughts reach no calm resolution as he stands in the consuming darkness.

3- “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair.”

The passage follows a repetitive grammatical structure of two clauses joined by a comma with each line beginning “It was the…”. This regular meter and rhyming structure creates a lilting almost singsong cadence that flows pleasantly to the ear. On its own, this rhythmic style engages the reader. However, Dickens subverts the pleasant rhythm by juxtaposing opposing ideas in each pair of lines: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. By continuing this contrasting pattern over eight lines, the writer builds momentum and amplifies the dichotomy, which mirrors the vast and sweeping tensions of the era. The repetitive cadence also helps the contrasting ideas resonate more deeply by repeating in our mind long after reading.

4- “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare’s

“To be, or not to be–that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.”

Shakespeare uses iambic pentameter to give Hamlet’s famous soliloquy a rhythm that mirrors his contemplative state. The repetition of “to be” cadences builds powerfully to Hamlet’s philosophical question.

5- Emily Dickinson’s poem #254

“The Soul selects her own Society – Then – shuts the Door – To her divine Majority – Present no more Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing – At her low Gate – Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling Upon her Mat – “

Dickinson employs an irregular cadence with varied line lengths to recreate the soul’s silent, lonely isolation from the external world. The enjambment between lines builds tension appropriately.

Cadence Examples In Literature
Cadence Examples In Literature

Elements That Effect Cadence

Here are some key elements that can affect cadence in literature, explained in more detail:

Punctuation: The type and placement of punctuation directly shapes cadence. Periods bring resolution while commas/semicolons allow phrases to continue. The varying sentence structures through creative punctuation keeps the reading pace interesting.

Syntax: Complex sentences with subordinate clauses slow cadence compared to short and direct phrases. Passive voice descriptions are slower than active constructions with clear subjects and action verbs. The changing up syntax keeps readers engaged.

Paragraph Length: Long paragraphs with many sentences slow the cadence as the eye tracks across pages. Short, tightly focused paragraphs quicken pace.

Descriptive Detail: The sensory descriptions enrich imagery but slow the narrative momentum. Minimal important details maintain cadence. However, the balance evokes mood without dragging.

Dialogue: Back-and-forth exchanges speed up cadence significantly compared to prose. Interjecting dialogue keeps the readers turning pages eagerly.

Tension: Cliffhangers, conflicts or revelations disrupt a steady rhythm to heighten suspense and curiosity about outcomes. This engages readers on an emotional level.

Imagery: The vivid words paint sensory pictures in the mind’s eye, which momentarily slow the cadence as imagery is interpreted before the next line is read.

Rhyme/Rhythm: It is a poetic devices, which create an almost musical quality that readers can intuitively feel gliding or galloping through text based on these established patterns.

Scene/Setting Changes: Transitioning locations or time periods disrupt narrative flow, which creates a new starting point for establishing pace.

Emotion: The intended mood, such as urgency, suspense or calmness comes through in an author’s selection and arrangement of elements that speed up or slow down cadence accordingly.

Functions of Cadence

Cadence in literature has some important jobs:

  • It controls the pace or speed of the story. By changing sentence lengths, rhythm, and tension, cadence speeds up or slows down parts of the story. Short, simple sentences move action scenes fast while long, complex sentences allow descriptive parts to move slowly. This helps momentum or how fast the story moves.
  • It shows meaning and feelings. Parts meant to show specific emotions will have cadences that match. Descriptions that help the reader see and feel the setting use slow rhythms, but tense confrontations or climaxes use fast, short sentences. Cadence reinforces what the author wants you to feel.
  • It engages or involves the reader. Changing things like punctuation, dialogue, and images from sentence to sentence challenges the mind and keeps readers actively thinking about the rhythms. Boring, same cadences are dull but skillfully changing cadence holds attention.
  • It structures or organizes information. Using complete or incomplete sentences, authors can clearly group ideas into good paragraphs or smoothly move between topics, places, and times using cadence shifts. This improves understanding.
  • It signals resolution or endings. Perfect or closed cadences close thoughts or sections while imperfect resolutions leave threads to follow, inviting the reader to keep going to discover endings, building involvement.
  • It builds anticipation. Strategic use of half cadences, suspenseful pauses or unresolved phrases makes the reader curious and motivates them to keep reading to discover endings, building involvement.
  • It develops characters. The cadence of a character’s inner thoughts or speech patterns provides clues about their mental state, from calm reflection to strong emotion or urgency.
  • It reinforces theme. When cadence complements the overall message, mood or purpose, it resonates deeper and brings the theme to life in the work.
  • It establishes tone. Upbeat, sad, thoughtful or matter-of-fact tones are set through the author’s choice of cadential rhythms and structures that set the overall attitude.

Related Terms with Cadence

Here are some related terms to cadence, explained simply:

Rhythm – The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables that gives language flow and music. Cadence relies on and improves underlying rhythm.

Meter – The regular pattern of stresses in poetry lines. The meter affects cadence – lines have different cadences.

Prosody – The musical parts of language like rhythm, stress, cadence. Authors use prosody consciously to cause feelings.

Syntax – Sentence structure and word order affect cadence. Simple sentences vary more than complex ones.

Punctuation – Marks like commas and periods set rhythmic groupings and pacing. Strategic punctuation allows cadence variation for meaning.

Lineation – Verse lines have more rhythm than prose lines because of line endings. Cadence plays with expected/unexpected line breaks.

Imagery – Vivid descriptions have distinctive rhythms to improve imagery when conveyed through cadential patterns.

Tone – The intended feeling influenced by word choice and rhythm/cadence. Different tones have different rhythms.

Theme – Cadence can strengthen the overall message or idea by matching rhythms involved in the theme.

Read: Literary Devices That Start with C

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *